Full transcript from the June 3, 2013 South Asia Center event “Towards Regional Stability in South Asia.”
Welcome and Moderator:
Director, South Asia Center
Mani Shankar Aiyar
First Consul-General of India, Karachi (1978-1982);
Member of Parliament,
1101 15th Street, NW, 11th Floor
Washington, DC 20005
Time: 2:30 p.m. EDT
Date: Monday, June 3, 2013
Federal News Service
SHUJA NAWAZ: Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center. And on behalf of my colleagues and our president, Fred Kempe, I’d like to welcome all of you to this very special session on “Towards Regional Stability in South Asia.”
And we are honored and delighted to welcome Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyar. He’s a well-known personality. And I’m sure that the reason why most of you are here, you know about him, but let me just say a few words about him.
He has been a member of the Indian Diplomatic Service, and we listed amongst his earlier accomplishments being consul – the first Indian consul general in Karachi in Pakistan. Of course later on he was high commissioner or ambassador in Islamabad. And so he has been holding many different positions in his service to India in the Foreign Service.
He was also a member of the cabinet in the first government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. And then more recently he was nominated to be a member of the upper house, the Rajya Sabha. He’s a very frequent commentator and writer. He has published six books, including “Pakistan Papers” and “Confessions of a Secular Fundamentalist.” And he is the editor of the four-volume “Rajiv Gandhi’s India.”
Mr. Aiyar is going to speak for about 20 minutes, and then the two of us will begin a conversation in which I hope all of you will participate. And if all goes well, we will be wrapping up at about 4:00. So I’m looking forward to this because I don’t think that we could have found a much better person to help us understand the situation – the evolving situation in South Asia, particularly in post-election Pakistan.
So we asked Mr. Aiyar to take a look at the issue of regional stability, but with particular reference to the recent events in Pakistan and the elections there. And of course I’m sure he will probably talk about what is happening in India and the impending elections in India, which have to occur by next spring.
So without wasting any more of your time, I’m going to ask Mr. Aiyar to come and speak, and then we’ll begin our conversation. Thank you all for coming.
MANI SHANKAR AIYAR: Thank you very much, Mr. Shuja Nawaz and friends, for taking time off this afternoon to come to this event.
I was most intrigued that the Atlantic Council should have any interest whatsoever in South Asia until I realized that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has unlocked landlocked Afghanistan by turning up there and linking it to the Atlantic Ocean. So perhaps it’s not surprising that the Atlantic Council should be interested in regional stability in South Asia.
I had thought it was going to be difficult enough to deal with eight countries in 20 minutes, but I’ve just been told by Mr. Nawaz that he defines South Asia as extending all the way from the Gulf to Burma. So that gives me about 30 seconds for each of the countries. So you will appreciate that I will have to deal with this matter with a broad brush rather than deal with individual countries or their interstate relations. That perhaps could be addressed if any one of you was interested in any particular aspect of the relationship during questions.
But I think, quite correctly, Mr. Shuja Nawaz has identified the heart of the problem as being the India-Pakistan relationship. And there, to put it in a few words, I am delighted that Nawaz Sharif has won the election, and won it so decisively.
And I’m also delighted that his party, the PMLN, has not succeeded within state governments anywhere outside Punjab. This means that any decision that he takes with respect to a neighbor will be influenced not only by his party but by the attitude of the PPP, which is in office in Sindh; by Imran Khan’s party, which is in office in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; and by the quandaries (ph) of parties that are in office in Balochistan, all of which are distanced from the three major parties. In other words, a consensus that emerges under Nawaz Sharif is likely to be a pan-Pakistan consensus, and this I think needs to be emphasized in moving forward.
Also in the course of the last few years, I think the Pakistani army has shown that it would rather deal with a very profitable Fauji Foundation than handle a bankrupt Pakistan economy. They somehow seem to have become “Pakistan Incorporated” rather than try and run the polity.
Some various opportunities were given under the previous regime to the army to take decisive action against the civil forces. And when Kayani moved his own man in as the head of the 10th Brigade at Rawalpindi, a lot of Indian commentators – particularly Indian experts who loved to be experts in things like knowing who are brigade commanders – they saw this as the first step towards bringing in the brigade to capture the government in Islamabad. Nothing happened.
And then the other gentleman, whose name is shared by Shuja Nawaz, who’s the ISI chief, was not given the extension that he thought he was going to get, and so repeatedly incidents took place which seemed to me to establish conclusively that the Pakistan army, at least for the moment, is simply uninterested in getting caught up in the coils of Pakistan politics.
So we have a situation where it’s not merely symbolic that, for the first time ever, a civilian government has given way to another civilian government, thereby in a sense providing an anchor for Pakistani democracy, but that the army has not, despite all the rumor-mongering, actually involved itself in the process. At one point when a cleric from Canada arrived and gathered several – well, I don’t know how many people he gathered. Some said hundreds. Others said thousands. Still others said tens of thousands, and yet others said hundreds of thousands.
He gathered them mostly in salubrious conditions in Islamabad to protest against – well, effectively to protest against the elections, saying that the elections provided a choice between equally undesirable people, which is probably true. But for that reason it seems silly to want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. In any case, he disappeared suddenly. He came in as suddenly as he went.
And the election process was I think about as fair as you can expect in South Asia. There will always be charges and countercharges. You’ll never get to know the truth as to how far allegations are genuine or motivated. But I don’t think anybody can really claim that the elections were unfair or rigged. If they were rigged, they were rigged in the direction in which the results were going, in any case. And therefore I think it’s really very uncricketmanship-like on the part of Imran Khan to suddenly wake up in his hospital bed and say that things were fiddled. I don’t think they were significantly fiddled.
So we have – we have a new political chapter genuinely opening up in that country. And I think we need to take – in India we need to take that into account, while at the same time taking into account at least three much more fundamental factors, which I’m afraid people in India are not taking into account. First and foremost, that there’s a huge generational change in Pakistan, which profoundly impacts on Pakistani perceptions of India.
That generation which won independence for Pakistan through the partition of British India, they were Indians on the 13th of August and on the 14th of August they suddenly became Pakistanis, and therefore asked the question which they perhaps were not on day one but did increasingly have to ask themselves as the years rolled by as to, why I am a Pakistani?
It couldn’t be on account of religion, because there were huge numbers of Muslims left in India. It couldn’t be on account of culture, because most of the cultures of Pakistan, particularly the principal ones at that time – the Bengali culture and the Punjabi culture – had their counterparts in India. Linguistically too there was much greater similarity between the principal Pakistani languages and Indian languages than between the minor Pakistani languages and the major Pakistani languages.
They declared as their national language Urdu, which was the mother tongue of only less than 5 percent of the population of Pakistan, according to a brilliant book by Farzana Shaikh, which I always cite, called “Making Sense of Pakistan.”
So here was a country that needed to define itself. And finding that on almost any parameter which one would use for defining nationhood it was not possible to distinguish Pakistan from India, they fell back on the one parameter that would necessarily distinguish India from Pakistan, and that parameter was to say I’m a Pakistani because I’m not an Indian.
And this negative definition of Pakistan became the siren song of that generation of Pakistanis. When I got posted to Pakistan between 1978 and 1982, about – a very large number, perhaps 60 or 70 percent, of those who came to my office asking for a visa belonged to that generation. But already they were moving towards being perhaps half the population.
Today a – (inaudible[11:09]) – child like myself, his counterpart in Pakistan would have no memory of having been an Indian – and I’m 72 – have no memory of having been an India. And of course anyone younger than us couldn’t have a memory of being an Indian because they were born in Pakistan and they are Pakistanis.
So where you got 100 percent of the population as former Indians, today you have about 95 percent of the population as Pakistanis who don’t need to ask themselves the question that the earlier generation had to ask. And this profoundly affects their mindset.
The second very major development in Pakistan is that having learned during the Afghan war that it was possible to use terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy – and they used that in the Kashmir area. They used it earlier too and it had always failed, and it failed once again. They suddenly discovered that all these terrorists they were nurturing for use against India were beginning to turn on Pakistan itself.
And even if it is true to say, as most Indians love emphasizing, that Pakistan is the home to global terrorism based on religion, they all have to accept, I think, that the evidence is clear that the biggest victim of Islamic terrorism is Pakistan itself. And if you don’t go to a mosque for fear that you won’t come back to your wife’s biryani for lunch; if you cannot go to the bazaar without being absolutely sure that you’ll bring back your saris with you return home; if you don’t know when your children go to school whether they will return from school, then I think priority No. 1 for any rational human being becomes let’s end this terrorism.
At one stage perhaps there were elements in the Pakistani establishment who thought that you could distinguish between terrorism directed at India, terrorism directed against the West, and terrorism directed against Pakistan, and concentrate only on finishing those who were against Pakistan. But I think they’ve increasingly realized that it’s almost impossible to untangle this web of terrorism, and that the same elements that are used in a jihad against India or a jihad in Afghanistan can also be used – and are being used – in a jihad against the ISI’s headquarters in Lahore, the army headquarters in Rawalpindi, the naval headquarters in Karachi.
And therefore, terrorism and fighting it is the single-biggest domestic issue in Pakistan, and it’s not possible, really, to use terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy and not to have it come back like a boomerang to hit you in your own country.
And the third major realization in Pakistan is that since 1954, when they joined the pacts that were being set up by the Washington security establishment to contain communism, which was neither a threat to Pakistan nor really a deep concern of theirs, they thought they were buying security support for their war on India or a possible war by India on Pakistan, and therefore agreed to become a frontline state in someone else’s cause.
And over the last 70 years, the Americans have been very careful about not letting them use, at least for any length of time, any weapons supplied by the United States to Pakistan for aggression against India or even defense against India, so that it’s really a rather one-way relationship where Pakistan assists the Americans in their perceived security interests but the U.S. doesn’t really assist Pakistan in its perceived security interests.
And the consequence of being the frontline state is that their own country is brewing up from within, apart from reinforcing the role of the armed forces inside Pakistan. So I think the third factor that we need to take into account is that Pakistan, or Pakistanis, are increasingly deciding that they should be a frontline in their own interests and not a frontline in somebody else’s interest.
So if you take these three factors together, the visceral anti-Indianism of a previous generation is almost out of the picture now and will be totally out of the picture about the time that they lower me into the grave; and secondly, that terrorism is the worst – the worst sin, crime being inflicted on the Pakistani people themselves; and thirdly, a desire to have an independent foreign policy, you can then see that there is – there are objective reasons why Pakistan should wish to be friendly towards India.
But while all these three factors – and several other specific factors that I don’t have the time to go into – have contributed towards a major change in the mindset in Pakistan, I’m afraid nothing similar has happened in India. Instead of being relieved that Pakistan is no longer that home of opposition that it used to be, there is a kind of clinging to the belief that since the Pakistanis have been hostile in the past, they are necessarily hostile now, and therefore Indians should behave like housewives who heard on the radio that a convict has escaped from the nearby jail and start putting up more and more barricades instead of seeing the opportunities that are arising.
The generality of Indian public opinion is far behind the generality of Pakistani public opinion in respect of the India-Pakistan relationship. And into this is woven the China factor. China is seen by these same elements who won’t grow up vis-à-vis Pakistan as being the main supporter of Pakistan. And therefore we’re not merely looking at a tiny little Pakistan to contain; we have to look at this giant China, which is backing Pakistan and which has become the substitute for the United States in the 21st century, and that this country has major territorial claims on us and it has a naval presence increasingly in the seas around us.
And there are incidents from time to time of the kind that took place in the Depsang Valley a few weeks ago, which indicate that the assumption of a friendly China is a misplaced one and that the hostility of China and the inevitable jealousy that it will have with respect to its only – its only possible rival, India, is such as to let us – make us realize that Pakistan is the sword in China’s hands, and that China is the shield in which Pakistan depends. And therefore we must construct our foreign policy in terms of assuming the hostility of both Pakistan and China.
Now, I think that’s, again, hugely misplaced. I happened to be with Rajiv Gandhi when he made this breakthrough visit to China in 1988. The benefits that have flowed to us in terms of trade in particular are so enormous that it does seem as if the amount of money spent on his having a reserved Air India plane to fly all the way to Peking and back has been much more than repaid, that it is – China is perhaps our single-most important trade partner now. There are prospects in investment which are very encouraging.
And as petroleum minister I did what most of my colleagues – certainly my Foreign Office – said were impossible, namely sign an agreement on cooperation in petroleum exploration in third countries with China. I took less than 24 hours to negotiate it. So my personal experience of the Chinese, Chinese diplomats and so forth, is that they are a friendly country; that yes they have their perception of what constitutes their border and we have our perception of what constitutes our border, and both of these are rooted in a history that doesn’t belong to the present.
I’m not sure that what Raja Gulab Singh decided in the 19th century, or what Younghusband did when he sneaked his way into Tibet, constitute a valid basis for us to say, not an inch; not one blade of grass will be handed over to the Chinese. And the Chinese, although they oratorically do emphasize their claim to what they call Southern Tibet, have done next to nothing to enforce it. They even withdrew from Taiwan, which they didn’t have to do, after the 1962 war.
And so I think 1962 was the result of misunderstandings, more on our side than on theirs, but they were also caught at that time in the throes of the complete collapse of the Chinese economy. And the desperate need to distract attention from various kinds of dissidents that were taking place not only within China but in the China-USSR relationship.
To look at what is happening today through the spectacles of 1962 would, I think, be a huge mistake and would bring upon our heads exactly that which we are attempting to prevent from coming upon our heads. So it is an imperative – an imperative that we ought to recognize that the best security is to be found in friendship with Pakistan and friendship with China. And if we can’t make friends with Pakistan, what’s the point of having a foreign policy which knows how to make friends with Paraguay? After all, the Pakistanis would have been Indians but for what I still regard – and begging the pardon of the Pakistanis present – as an accident.
(Audio break) – very important conversation, and I’m glad that you have lived up to your reputation of being bold and frank and very open. And I just – I’m delighted, of course, that at the South Asia Center, where we have a motto of waging peace in the region, that somebody like you is willing to stand up and talk peace and actually offer practical solutions.
Let me take you back to the beginning of your talk, and you were very hopeful about the emergence of a strong central leadership in Pakistan. And yet with the balancing between the states and the center, which is very critical in Pakistan’s federal constitution, when you look at the other side, in India, you still have a very weak coalition government, subject to the same kind of blackmail that the previous government in Pakistan was subjected to. What do you see as the emerging political scene in India that would allow a counterpart to the Pakistani situation that would lead to then some kind of a balancing or rebalancing of this relationship in a more positive trajectory?
MR. AIYAR: I don’t –
MR. NAWAZ: You don’t.
MR. AIYAR: – which is why I think the present government, despite the fact that its lease on life is very short, ought to take initiatives that could not be reversed. And therefore I’m an impassioned advocate of Dr. Manmohan Singh fulfilling a long-standing commitment on his part to the Pakistanis and a strong desire on his own part to make the visit to Pakistan and, whatever time frame he sets for making that visit, to use the interim to really intensify the dialogue to the point where he can come back to India claiming that, you know, he’s settled this or that, but more importantly, setting up the framework for an uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue.
And that will bind the Indians as much into the process as it will the Pakistanis. And I think the Pakistanis are ready to be bound by this embrace of love. I’m not sure the Indians are. But what I do know is that in India, the people in foreign policy, especially with respect to Pakistan and China, tend to follow the leadership rather than insist that the leadership follow them. So does the prime minister of India have the courage of his conviction to move forward? I don’t know. I’m not the prime minister. I don’t know what constraints he’s subject to.
But I do know that I would want him, even in these remaining 12 months, to schedule a visit to Pakistan. After all, Vajpayee did it, although it was in the context of a SAARC meeting, in January 2004. It didn’t do him much good, but the process that he started in January 2004 has enabled the opposition, for the last 10 years, to claim that the Congress government has done nothing but follow the Vajpayee path, which is one way of keeping the opposition with us when we make these moves. But since we’ve allowed the dialogue to collapse at every little hurdle, I’m afraid nothing has been achieved where so much could have been achieved.
MR. NAWAZ: You said something very powerful, and I’ll quote you. You said most statesmen are idiots. I thought you meant to say most politicians are idiots because in my definition, a statesman is – a politician is somebody who’s thinking of the here and now, and the statesman is one who thinks of the next generation. So was that a – did you misspeak? Because given the South Asian context, you have a statesman in – at the helm of affairs in India, but he hasn’t been able to deliver on that promise. How will that change?
MR. AIYAR: See, my definition of a politician and a statesman are different. I define the statesman as a successful politician. And I have – I – and this – I see no wisdom in what happened from Helen of Troy onwards, which is why that book by Barbara Tuchman has become my Bible, if you like, that she shows repeatedly how people who get to the top and know what the consequences of their actions are find themselves unable to act on their best perceptions and allow events to bring them down, when they could so easily have stopped it.
So I think being right at the top is a very dangerous place to be. You’re told by all your sycophants that you’re the greatest and that all you have to do is one more step and you’ll get to Norway and you’ll win the Nobel Prize, which is, after all, the only – the only achievement that remains for anyone who’s not a first-term president of the United States. He got it within a month for the expression of an intent, which he’s done absolutely nothing about realizing since he spoke at Prague. But that’s the way – that’s the way human beings are.
And I would – I’d stress that, yes, Dr. Manmohan Singh is a statesman in your sense of the term, but he’s got himself into a political tailspin in India. But it’s not a tailspin that can prevent him from undertaking a major foreign policy initiative. And he’s done so with respect to China. After all, the pressures on him at the time that the Chinese military presence in Depsang Valley was revealed were enormous. But he stuck to his guns. He’s also stuck to his guns when anchormen in India – it’s they, much more than MPs, who matter now – when these anchor – and the female of the species tends to be much deadlier than the male, so the women anchors –
MR. NAWAZ: (Who get him into very dangerous waters. ?) (Chuckles.)
MR. AIYAR: The women and the male anchors – the way in which they attempt, evening after evening, to ruin our relationship with our neighbors and with everybody else within the country – to have stood up to that and said, we will not do tit-for-tat when it came to those two soldiers whose heads were returned without the body – or the body was returned without the heads, or when Sarabjit Singh was assassinated in that jail – I think there was a maturity in the Indian response that was reflected again in the Depsang Valley incident. So the leadership has shown itself to be statesmanlike in your sense of the term.
But if they’re going to leave a mark on history, if they’re going to do something that remains irreversible despite a change of government, in case there’s a change of government, then I think that initiative will have to come now because the next government that comes in will be – or an alternative government that could come in would be innocent of foreign policy and therefore terrified of taking controversial steps with regard to countries like Pakistan and China.
So I think our best bet would be to take the necessary initiatives now. And what Rajiv did with China in December ’88 has proved its worth over how many years now, 26 years. And there’s nobody who can fault it for that. And we’ve had, I think, nine changes of government in between, but nobody has attempted to radically alter the direction in which India-China relations is going. And I think we need to do that with respect to Pakistan.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you. I don’t want to hog the conversation, so I’m going to open it up to the audience. Please indicate – and I’ll try and make sure I catch you in the right order. So the gentleman over there. Please wait for the microphone to reach you, and if you could please identify yourself for the record and then ask a question.
Q: Hi. My name is Jeremy Iloulian. I’m from Young Americans for Diplomatic –
MR. AIYAR: Sorry, can you just put your mic a little – I’m very hard of hearing.
Q: OK. Better? Hi. My name is Jeremy Iloulian. I’m from Young Americans for Diplomatic Leadership. I have two questions. The first one deals with the Lakshar-e-Taiba, Lakshar-e-Taiba in Kashmir and with Pakistan. Pakistan seems to have sort of basically created the organization and is in a situation where to make any sort of peace over Kashmir and work with India in a difficult situation if something might come up – I guess, how does Pakistan sort of deal with the terrorist organization and move forward in any sort of agreement with India?
And the second question deals with thorium nuclear reactors. I know there’s been new technology developed in India. Do you think there’s a chance, even with Fukushima and the other – and the global nuclear perspective right now, that thorium reactors will develop in the Indian economy?
MR. AIYAR: OK, quickly summarize the question.
MR. NAWAZ: So if I could understand him, the first question was the potential for the Lashkar-e-Taiba to be a stumbling block in the relationship with India, particularly on Kashmir. And the second one was on nuclear power, the – after Fukushima particularly, whether there was a chance that India would be able to overcome constraints to expanding its nuclear capacity for civil purposes, right?
MR. AIYAR: Especially –
MR. NAWAZ: Especially with thorium reactors.
MR. AIYAR: OK. With regard to the first question, yes, the Lashkar-e-Taiba can prove a formidable hurdle, and it could knock any Pakistani attempt to move towards friendship with India head over heels. But they will succeed only if acts of theirs result in a disruption of the dialogue, which is why I’m not so concerned with Dr. Manmohan Singh actually coming up, like a conjurer, with solutions to all our problems when he visits Islamabad so much as setting up a dialogue that is uninterrupted and uninterruptible, because once the Lashkar knows that nothing they do can disrupt the dialogue, then any act of terrorism is an act with an end in itself. It’s an act of terrorism aimed at terror. Today an act of terrorism could so easily derail the dialogue, and therefore derail the possibility of a rapprochement between India and Pakistan.
So I think we should stop making the Lashkar-e-Taiba the single biggest obstacle, because it is we who are stopping it. We are saying, get hold of this man Hafiz Saeed; hang him. Well, and we make that a precondition for beginning the dialogue.
So who is – where is the Lashkar-e-Taiba as of today proving a deadlock? In Islamabad – a roadblock. Is it in Islamabad, or is in New Delhi? So I think we should think this through more carefully than we tend to do.
The other thing is about nuclear power. I have, owing to these very serious environmental concerns that have been generated as a result of Fukushima and activists on the ground – these activists are not merely those who shout slogans but also very senior members of the atomic energy establishment like Dr. Gopalakrishnan, who seems to have a morbid knowledge of what is happening in nuclear energy around the world. And he pulls out all these inconvenient facts, confronts the government with it, and then we are forced to modify our policies, on the one hand, and on the other, the limited liability legislation of the government of India, which has satisfied nobody, and certainly not satisfied the suppliers – I don’t know that our nuclear program will really get off the ground. It doesn’t – it seems to be running into a lot of difficulty just now.
It is certainly the hope of the government of India, as well as of our business community, that the quicker we can get to nuclear energy, the better it is for India. But at (Jadavpur ?) in West Bengal, where these nuclear plants are supposed to come up, there are objections by the local people. And so in some ways, I think that it is not until Dr. Manmohan Singh, who lives at number 3 Race Course Road, builds a nuclear power plant at number 1 Race Course Road that the country will be satisfied that this is a safe form of energy. So there are difficulties there.
The thorium phase is the third phase, after uranium and plutonium. And if we ever got to the thorium stage, then India will be the Saudi Arabia of nuclear energy, for no country has as large a stockpile of monazite sands as we have. And this was discovered by Oppenheimer back in the very early ’50s. And because he was under surveillance, he had a letter send to Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, who was the sister of Jawaharlal Nehru, and the Indian ambassador here. It’s been revealed in a book that has just been published, but I mean just two years ago, that Oppenheimer got somebody else to deliver a letter to Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit and have her send it to her brother in which he pleaded with her, the Americans are about to make an offer that, in exchange for monazite sand from Kerala, they will give us all the food aid that we want. And he pleaded with Nehru that please don’t fall for this because then the world will be blown up before any food reaches you.
So this has been a holy grail for a long, long time. And were we to ever reach that phase – and that’s what animates Indians who are in favor of nuclear energy – that should we ever move out of plutonium – out of uranium and plutonium and into thorium, at that point we’d have a perfectly recyclable raw material. The quantities of it available in India would be approximately equal to the share of sunlight that Saudi Arabia gets. And we’d be there. We’d have all of you on your knees begging us for thorium. (Chuckles.) But I think that’s a bit of a holy grail and that what is much more important than thorium is to – is to keep India floating until we reach the thorium age.
And to keep India floating till then, we need Iran. We need Iraq. We need Azerbaijan. We need Turkmenistan. We need Pakistan. We need Burma, or Myanmar. We need Malaysia. We need Indonesia. We need Australia. There’s no lack of energy in the world, but we need to put it towards ourselves instead of being the victim that we are of the New York metal exchange.
Why is the price of oil at this level? It’s the – it’s at this level because if you give no interest on your bonds and your dot-com bubbles make people nervous of investing in the stock market, the best place to go gambling outside Reno is on the New York metal exchange. And so while there’s been no objective change in the supply and demand conditions for oil, where the United States of America grew into such a powerful machine with our oil at a dollar a barrel, today it’s $110 a barrel. How will we ever make the grade unless we establish an Asian oil and gas community that enables the emerging demand of India to be met by the emerging supply of Asia – of India and China – to be met by the emerging supply of Asia?
So I would imagine that while keeping alive this holy grail dream of the thorium phase, we must do something about lasting out from 2013 to 2o73, before which I don’t think we’re going to get to the thorium phase.
MR. NAWAZ: That’s a pretty long-range forecast now. Any other questions? Yes, sir. Please wait for the microphone and identify yourself, please.
Q: Harisarup Singh (ph), a retired diplomat. About China, I do believe that dialogue will not lead to a solution, and nondialogue may not. So it’s better to talk to them. But I see no change in their recent actions on the border areas, their statements from time to time over the years in think tanks – the Chinese scholars have been very aggressive. I heard a long discussion with Daisy Schaffer (ph) afterwards at CSIS, and they had plans to encircle us. It’s going on today. And therefore I do believe that we will have problems in times of – (inaudible) – and weapons systems and all that. And therefore we will have to not have the strength – if you don’t have the strength in offensive weapons, we should make the cost of offense against us, through having such a strong defensive action, that people would think twice. And therefore I don’t know what we can do. But China, as far as I can see – I see no signs. And at the same time, I agree that we should talk to them but keep our powder dry. But your enthusiasm in, hopefully, the success of dialogue – could you please comment on that again in the light of my reservations?
MR. AIYAR: Well, we’re already the world’s second-largest importer of arms. Gandhi’s India is the second-largest importer of arms in the world. The budget that we have for defense is the – is the sacred cow, the new sacred cow. You can’t touch it. It keeps increasing every year. It’s more than – it’s more than our entire budget for poverty alleviation and social security schemes.
And therefore I don’t really know what is the scope for increasing this import of arms and the domestic production of really sophisticated arms. We somehow don’t seem to have the ability to do it because all our bright people are exported as computer coolies to California. So all our brainpower has been drained into the United States of America and into the United Kingdom, and the flotsam and jetsam that are left behind in India haven’t been able to make a battle tank, where we don’t even have a trainer jet of our own.
So yes, we should be as strong as we possibly can be to deter any possible Chinese attack, but if in the process we bankrupt ourselves, I’m not sure that becoming economically weaker is the best way of increasing our defense security. That’s one concern. I think we need to recognize that we are already straining the absolute edges of the fabric of Indian fiscal responsibility to even build ourselves up to the stage that we have.
Secondly, when it comes to aggressive statements in think tanks, we’re – we have our Brahma Chellaneys also, who go around the world, you know, glaring at Chinese and showing them his teeth. I think – I think we also ought to take into account the very large number of reasonable Chinese who are going around to these think tanks and not being as nasty as some of their counterparts are. We’ve got nasty Indians; they’ve got nasty Chinese. How can they help it? They’ve got 1 ½ billion, and we’re catching up with them fast. (Chuckles.) So there are bound to be a large number of rather stupid people on both sides of the border. What is important is that the state should not listen to them.
The third thing is what happens now? The Chinese prime minister schedules a visit to India. It’s his first visit to any Asian country. Just after coming into office, after what, by all accounts, has been a very convoluted political process inside China that threatened, at one stage, to destabilize the Communist Party and its hold over China, but then he emerged and says that he wants to come to India. And about the same time, somebody moves a Chinese unit into the Depsang Valley.
Number one, that area – what we are both agreed on is that we will not cross the line of actual control, as established in 1962. What we haven’t agreed on is where this line of actual control is. There is a Chinese perception of where it lies, and there’s an Indian perception of where it lies. And this area happens to be one of those where the Chinese perception is at variance with the Indian perception of where it lies. And this area happens to be one of those where the Chinese perception is at variance with the Indian perception and has been; it’s not as if they were saying, yes, yes, to us from 1962 to today and suddenly turned nasty. From 1962 on they would say that you are not in the Depsang Valley, and therefore, don’t come in now. We built ourselves up then in pursuit of the doctrine that you were just mentioning. That’s (why ?) they sent in a unit. And our side tells me that we built it up in order to get the Chinese to not build it up, and when they did build up something, we got them to dismantle it in exchange for dismantling what we didn’t think was necessary.
Now, the reason why Daulat Beg Oldi is so isolated in the Depsang Valley is that we have deliberately decided not to build the infrastructure that goes right up to Daulat Beg Oldi for fear that the Chinese will then have a quiet stroll on their evening walk and fetch up where it really matters. Now we started building it, so the Chinese want to know what is the Indian intention in building up something that we hadn’t built up for 60, 70 years?
So our actions destabilized the situation on the ground. The Chinese action destabilized it even further. The Chinese prime minister insisted a solution could be found, and therefore he was maintaining his visit to India. And the Indian government did the same thing, said we’ll try and find an answer, and we are not to cancel the visit.
And while this was on, two officers of the level of joint secretary settled the issue between themselves. There was no meeting of defense ministers. There was no meeting of external affairs ministers, except in the sense that Salman Khurshid did some preparatory work. The bulk of the work was done by joint secretary level officers. We have a rather bright ambassador in Beijing who I think is more likely to fetch up here than any other prediction that I could make. He’s a very bright officer, speakers absolutely fluent Chinese and was able to sort things out with them. And the visit has gone through. It’s been most successful. Manmohan Singh is going back.
Now, I think what we ought to do is to approach these things with a cool head and knowing that if there is a problem, there is probably something happening on the other side which we ought to get to know about and sit down and talk and say, if your coming into Daulat Beg Oldi is the preliminary step to your capturing Delhi, then we have some objections, but if your primary objective in coming to Daulat Beg Oldi is to go back from Daulat Beg Oldi, can we facilitate your return back to where you were. And that’s exactly what happened.
So let us please not assume that the Chinese are dreaded enemies who have the most evil intentions towards us. I don’t think they have. They got enough on their plates. There’s enough of a problem inside China. It’s the problems of success. There is an entire generation – like I was talking about the generation of Pakistanis – there are more Chinese who’ve never heard of Mao Tse Tung or didn’t live under him. They were not part of the revolution. For them, Sun Yatsen is as ancient as the Emperor Ashoka is for us. So their reality is the contemporary reality of shopping malls, and they don’t want to let go of their shopping malls. And (if ?) they start fighting with everybody, all their neighbors, they’re going to lose their shopping malls sooner than later.
I think Chinese prosperity is one of the best things that’s happened for us. And it’s also one of the worst things that happened for them, because they have to sustain this prosperity, and they’re having a very difficult time sustaining it. And we can live with poverty because it’s a perennial condition. The Europeans or the Americans don’t even know how to cope with transient poverty. They get into such a mess over it. But if they were Indians, they’d know that every time I come to the West, and especially in the last five years, I look around me and say, if this is recession, can I please take a piece of it back with me home? (Laughter.)
MR. NAWAZ: I think we had a question there, and then I’m coming to the front. We’ll move forward from there.
Q: Thank you. Shaun Tandon. I’m a journalist with the AFP news agency.
I just wanted to see if you could expand on your – what you mentioned, that anti-Indianism is on the out in Pakistan. For what you see from Prime Minister Sharif, Prime Minister-elect Sharif, what do you – what do you sense in terms of his policy toward India, how it will be? And your statement on anti-Indianism being on the out in Pakistan, how to you reconcile that with the strength of groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, for example? Do you still see those as groups that can be a threat to the – to the process?
MR. NAWAZ: I think he wants you to reconcile the statement about the more positive inclination of Nawaz Sharif versus the presence of groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, which continue to be on an anti-Indian bent.
MR. AIYAR: Yeah. Well, first and foremost, I don’t think Nawaz Sharif belongs to the Lashkar-e-Taiba. And I don’t see how sitting in the opposition to the PPP government in Islamabad, he needed to have – unnecessarily raise the hackles of the Lashkar-e-Taiba.
But I think the fact that Pakistan is the single worst victim of Pakistani terrorism is such an overwhelming fact, such an overwhelming piece of reality in Pakistan, that no Pakistani prime minister, whether he is Nawaz Sharif or anyone else, could possibly actually become a collaborator of the Lashkar-e-Taiba. They were at a time when it was possible to distinguish anti-Indian terrorism from anti-Western terrorism and Pakistan-directed terrorism, but these three have now become – they’ve got so many interwoven links that you either fight terrorism or you don’t. You cannot support anti-Indian terrorism and still fight anti-Pakistan terrorism.
So this is – this is the objective reality in Pakistan. And so I imagine that in Nawaz Sharif, whose own family industry has more to gain from economic relations with India than any other single element of the Pakistan society, he’s bound to want to promote a relationship in which he’s able to emerge as somebody who legitimizes himself, not only through the Pakistani electorate, but also through his ability to handle India in a manner that retains Pakistani self-respect but reduces the threat from India. Don’t forget that all these threats are mutual. If we are going to be frightened of Pakistan, the Pakistanis have ample reason to be frightened of India. And it’s only by mocking the desire to be frightened that I think we can move forward.
And Nawaz Sharif has committed – has at least made statements. For instance, he said that the day after he becomes prime minister, he’s going to abolish all visa for Indians to visit Pakistan. Now, he’s obviously going to be prevented from reaching that magnificent point, but I’m sure the intentions is to ease these visa restrictions as much as possible, to promote business contacts between the two countries. He gives an intention – he gives an – he gives a statement on the day he’s elected that they have some coal in the Thar Desert in Sindh, but they don’t know how to exploit it because the Pakistanis have never developed coal technology, whereas India has. And he says that he’d like Indians to come and invest in remote Sindh, where we could easily spawn as many terrorists as we want to go against the Pakistanis.
It’s an amazing statement for a man to – for a Pakistani prime minister to make, even before he takes his oath. But he’s quite clear, I think, in seeing that a good relationship with Pakistani will pay – with India will pay him huge domestic political dividends and that the best way of doing this is not take the Lashkar-e-Taiba on absolutely upfront but to try and restrain them and certainly prevent Pakistani state actors from aiding and abetting Pakistani nonstate actors.
MR. NAWAZ: And to cut the ground from underneath them, which is essentially what he’s trying to do.
MR. AIYAR: Well, I don’t know that I’d go that far because his record is not a very happy one. It’s also known from Sartaj Aziz’s biography, autobiography, that he did know about Pervez Musharraf’s Kargil plans. He knew about them within the month of March, within a month of Vajpayee’s visit. And the only question he asks, says Sartaj Aziz – he’s a nice chap, I like to believe him, but it may be that, you know, things gets exaggerated in his own mind. What he says was that when Pervez Musharraf came and outlined to Cabinet his plans for the action in Kargil, Nawaz Sharif’s sole question was, can you see the lights of Srinagar from the mountaintops over Kargil? And Pervez Musharraf said yes. So he says that if we allowed you to do this, how long would it take you to reach Srinagar? And Pervez Musharraf is supposed to have replied, a week, at which point Nawaz Sharif suspended the meeting and asked them all to give thanks to Allah for having provided Pervez Musharraf, who would lead the triumphant march, which Nawaz Sharif would follow, into Srinagar.
So if you – I am not suggesting that there is something divine about Nawaz Sharif because he’s a Penjabi and he knows how to do a – (inaudible) – that therefore we should trust him. It just seems to me that any leader in Pakistan today would be better advised to listen to the councils of his – the council of peace of his own people than to listen to the war cries of Hafiz Saeed and people like him.
MR. NAWAZ: We’ll take the last two questions together. So the gentleman there and then the gentleman there. And then if you wouldn’t mind answering both together.
MR. AIYAR: OK. Sure.
MR. NAWAZ: We’ll just wrap it up.
Q: Thank you. I’m professor Wayne Glass from the School of International Relations at the University of Southern California with my group of outstanding young students here. We’re in Washington – thank you for – the Atlantic Council for including this in your session today. We’re in Washington studying nuclear issues.
And your final remarks, Mr. Aiyar, about India’s energy needs and the need to meet the requirements between now and 2070 or whatever, and therefore the turn towards Iran for fossil fuel support is a – causes, of course, great concern to the United States because of our predilection to put the clamps down on Iran everywhere we possibly can. I think I heard you say, and maybe I misheard you say, that in that context, if Iran’s motivation is to pursue a nuclear weapons program, given India’s concerns about the nonproliferation treaty and the inegality (ph) that is a part of that, if I’m reading between the lines, I almost got – I almost heard you say that you might support an Iranian motivation to – for a nuclear weapons program. Is that – am I misreading your statement?
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you. We’ll take the next question also and get both of these together. Go ahead, young man.
Q: My name’s Matt Wu (sp), and I’m from USC as well. And my question was also about nuclear weapons, but in terms of the relationship between Pakistan and India. With the – just the fact that nuclear weapons are such a big part of Pakistan’s national identity as well as their national security, and in the past there has been a lot of conflict between India and Pakistan over that, and in addition to that, the fact that Pakistan, India and China have all increased their nuclear warheads within the last year as well as potential nuclear agreements between China and Pakistan and the U.S. and India, how do you think that those nuclear issues between Pakistan and India in terms of weapons can be resolved in the future?
MR. NAWAZ: That’s it.
MR. AIYAR: Yeah. OK.
MR. NAWAZ: Can Iran go nuclear – (inaudible)?
MR. AIYAR: Number one, the declared nuclear policy of Iran is not to go in for the weaponization of nuclear energy. It’s disbelieved in Washington. It’s disbelieved in Western capitals. And yet it is repeatedly iterated and reiterated by the Iranians. And so I think that recognizing their sovereign rights, we should allow for the possibility that they do not intend to make nuclear weapons. And there – we should take no actions, the world should take no actions that pushes them in that direction and – instead to take actions that will increase their own sense of security, which first and foremost means recognizing that Israel is a nuclear weapons power, which has been ignored, and working towards attempting to defuse rather than promote the tension between Israel and Iran.
I think second, we need to recognize that we cannot – I don’t believe anybody can stop Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon power should they choose to. There was an attempt to stop Iraq from becoming a nuclear weapon power, and it’s left such a huge mess, creating, in fact, the most dangerous face-off in the 21st century by bringing the Shia majority of Iraq into power in Baghdad and placing them absolutely cheek-by-jowl with the most fanatical Wahhabi Sunni element of Saudi Arabia. That we are trying – that the one result of what George W. Bush Jr. did was to recreate the situation that ended in 648 A.D. when the battle of Qadisiya was resolved in favor of the Arabs and against the Iranians and has therefore kept Iraq as a buffer zone between Iran – between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia for 1,400 years. I mentioned this to Hillary Clinton on the one occasion I met her, and was very disturbed that she had never heard of the Battle of Qadisiya. So there seems to be an absence of understanding of other people’s histories before going into these areas.
These are very highly developed civilizations with a very highly developed sense of nationhood, and therefore a sense of nationhood that has been repeatedly insulted, and not least by Kermit Roosevelt in 1953, when he led the CIA revolt against – on the streets of Tehran against Mossadegh, who was a duly elected prime minister, who wanted to do no more with Iranian oil than the Saudis today are doing, which is to say it’s our oil.
So the assumption that the Iranian mullah is an enemy, that the ayatollahs have to be somehow finished, and that whether the Iranian people want them or not, we don’t want them, and therefore we can get rid of them, to promote regime change, to do so by economic sanctions – economic sanctions against Saddam Hussein resulted in half a million dead Iraqi children. If that is not genocide, what is? Before the war. This is not the consequence of what happened in the wars. Economic sanctions. And now they’re trying to tighten the noose around Iran, which has, A, got a more democratic government, a much more lively people; and to portray them as an axis of evil and so forth is to be so self-defeating.
And in the process of doing this, why should India have to have its trade relations strangled? The Americans have now said the Asian Clearing Union can’t function. So the Iranians can’t pay, and we are, therefore, into some kind of a primitive barter arrangement with them. We are trying to build the Chabahar port in Iran for them and getting paid in – you know, like red Indians here, with beads and so forth. And that’s the situation to which you’re reduced two great countries of Asia because you’re unable to sort out their quarrels.
Now, we’ve got into the position where, very legalistically, we say that we can make the bomb because we didn’t sign the NPT, but that Iran shouldn’t make the bomb because it did sign the NPT. Well, so did North Korea. And North Korea simply said, I’m walking out of the NPT, and what can you do about it? Well, nothing. The reason why Libya got bombed was that that stupid Gadhafi gave up his nuclear bomb. If he’d not given up his nuclear bomb, how would you have gone into that country? And please read – if my memory is right, it’s either page 248 or page 264, but I may be mistaken, of Tony Blair’s political autobiography, where the immortal sentence is there that if only Saddam Hussein had done what Gadhafi did, we would not have needed to invade Iraq. Today I can only say, ha-ha-ha. And the whole of the American political establishment is being thrown into a tizzy over what happened in Benghazi? Has anybody asked what has happened to the Libyan political establishment as a result of what happened before that in Benghazi?
Revolutions have a right to come into existence against injustice, and revolutions have a right to overthrow the unjust. But when their war is taken over by somebody else and a new cause is introduced, then it renders the result illegitimate. And that is what is happening all over the Middle East. And when a revolution is allowed to play out its natural course, the fear that you have of the current Egyptian regime – you can’t wish Islam away, and therefore, you can’t wish away extremist Islam. You have to deal with it. And I don’t see how we can have any kind of settlement in Afghanistan without recognizing that most of the social practices advocated by the Taliban are the extant social practices of much of rural Afghanistan, and that they don’t regard your removing the veil as an act of liberation. They don’t. But then, they’re peculiar.
So what I do every time I’m told, you know, these Taliban are a backward people is to look at photographs of the seaside in Brighton or here in the United States of America a hundred years ago. Where were the bikinis? They weren’t’ there. It was regarded as immodest to uncover yourself to the extent which is absolutely normal today on – in the beaches or the swimming pools of the United States of America. And in Victorian England – that’s only 150 years ago – in Victorian England, they used to put cloth around the legs of tables because Victorian gentlemen would get unnecessarily aroused by looking at any legs, even if it were the wooden legs of a table.
So societies change, societies evolve, and it’s ridiculous to try and impose the civilizational norms of one civilization on another. True, they may turn around. The Iranians have gone to the extent of actually putting on the suits that you make. They haven’t agreed to putting on the tie, for the ridiculous reason that they think it looks like a cross. I’m not sure that it looks like a cross at all, but that’s why they don’t wear a tie. Well, let them not wear a tie. Do we really have to make them all wear ties? And in any case, it makes some sense for people to wear suits in Iran because it can be quite cold in the winter and quite pleasant in summer. Will we make Indians wear suits? The only record that India has in today’s New York Times is the temperature in Delhi. It’s 111 degrees – thank you very much – and no other capital in the world comes close to our century-plus-11.
So I think all this business of assuming – and then I come back to the fundamental question. I think all nuclear weapons are bad. I think they’re terrible. I think they should never have been invented, and if they have, they should be disinvented. I think there should be total, total nuclear disarmament. And that applies as much to India and Pakistan as it would to potentially Iran and certainly the United States today. But if the United States – and that was the point I was making – says nuclear weapons are necessary for our security, on what plane of logic can you tell another country, whether it’s Iran or anybody else, that it’s not necessary for your security? And can we decide what is necessary for the security of another country?
Now, link that up with the other question which you asked about Indo-Pakistan nuclear détente. Please remember that it was when the Chinese had their atom bomb explosion above the air in 1964, there was tremendous pressure on India – it was just two years after the Chinese invasion. Two years. There was tremendous pressure on us to start our nuclear weapons program, and it was resisted. It was resisted by a series of three or four prime ministers of India, from Jawaharlal Nehru into Lal Bahadur Shastri, then Indira Gandhi, and then the challenge that took place.
But in 1971, we had a horrendous experience. What was happening in East Pakistan was being reported all over the West. Mrs. Gandhi stopped the hawks from sending the Indian army into East Pakistan because she thought that she could get restraint exercised by going to the Western capitals. And she traveled to all the Western capitals. And we now know what conversations took place between Nixon and Kissinger over what was happening in 1971. Nixon was calling her a bitch and saying, who’s the bloody woman trying to upset the order that I’m setting up? Because he wanted to be known as the one who had gone to China and made the breakthrough there, and because they couldn’t get to China except through Peshawar, they felt that it was necessary to keep Pakistan on their side. And what was this Indira Gandhi doing trying to disturb this noble, divine order by complaining about what Pakistanis were doing to Pakistanis? That that was an internal matter for Pakistan.
And we faced first an influx of 6 million and finally an influx of 10 million refugees from East Pakistan coming into our country. And so when the war started, the Soviet Union told us we’ll give you exactly – give you 18 days; we can’t keep the veto going beyond that. Every single country in the U.N. except for Bhutan voted against us. And we succeeded in finishing that war in 16 days, but not before the USS Enterprise, nuclear powered, had been sent towards the Bay of Bengal by Henry Kissinger.
Now, in these circumstances Mrs. Gandhi decided that we shouldn’t be trusting either democracy or the good will of the West. And she made what I regard as a big mistake, the first Pokharan blast. And once she made the first Pokharan blast, we had Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in Pakistan saying that they’d eat leaves. And because they needed the money, apart from stealing the technology, needed the money, he said it will be an Islamic bomb, not only a Pakistani bomb. And so we both slid into this.
We slid into it, and then in 1987, gratuitously, the infamous A.Q. Khan called an Indian journalist and told him that we have the bomb. And at that time, in a private conversation with Rajiv Gandhi, Rajiv said to me, Mani, if Pakistan gets the bomb, even I can’t stop India from getting it. Because he knew me as a peacemaker, and he didn’t want to fall, I think, in my moral eyes, and therefore he wanted to stress that he was against the nuclear bomb. But it seems as if he gave permission for the bomb to be further developed. It was already a screwdriver away from being used.
But then we kept off it for a good 10 years, and then this silly government of the opposition came in, and to show themselves to be – (inaudible) – I’ll define that for you – you kill 30 – which means you kill 30 flies and claim you killed 30 human beings – he exploded this bomb. His entire government didn’t last a year, and he exploded the bomb, and sure enough, the Pakistanis did it three weeks later. They could have done it at any time before. We could have done it at any time before.
And neither of us were bound by the NPT because we refused to sign this unequal treaty. And having refused to sign this unequal treaty, we were in the clear. The Iranians are not, because they are signatories to it. And they insist that they are signatories to it. They say they don’t want to move out of it. They say that they will attend the NPT review conference. They are the chairman of the nonaligned group, so they’re going to be speaking on behalf of 120 countries, to the Americans, who will be speaking on their own behalf. And they’ll be asked, the Americans, again and again, but what happened to Article VI of the NPT, which said that you were going to reduce your nuclear arsenals with a view to eliminating them?
So we live in a very unequal world. We live in a very unjust world. We live in a world in which morality is not on any one side. What we need to do is to arrive at sensible – (inaudible) – where we don’t slip into war.
And so might I just end my remarks just now by referring you to the origins of the First World War. The First World War did not accidentally begin on the 4th of August, 1914. It began actually on the 26th of June, 1900, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand had fallen in love with a countess, but she wasn’t a peer of the realm. He fell so madly in love with her that he insisted on marrying her. And the high priest said that you can have a marriage but it will be a morganatic marriage, which meant that she would never be described as the queen of – the empress of Austria Hungary. And her children could never aspire to the throne.
But Franz Ferdinand was so much in love with Countess Sophie that he said despite its being a morganatic marriage, I’ll marry you. And for the next 14 years he was extremely upset about the fact that whenever he was on a public platform, she was not allowed to come on the platform with him, and she was always being slighted by the other members of the royal entourage.
So when Austria succeeded in capturing Bosnia, he was made the commander in chief of the Bosnian army. And he immediately asked, when I go there to take my salute, can I take Countess Sophie with me? And the high priest said, yes, you can, because Bosnia is still not a part of the Austrian Empire, so she will be treated equally with you. And so he drove down to Sarajevo with his wife, only because he loved her so much that he wanted her to be honored equally with him. And that is where Gavrilo Princip shot both of them dead and the First World War started. So the world war did not begin as a story of hate; it began as a Mills & Boon story of love. So you never know when these wretched nuclear weapons would be used. The circumstances of their use will never be known before they’re used.
And once they’re used, it’s the only war in history that will never get reported. And nobody is going to get a professorship at the University of Southern California to write on the Third World War, because none of us will be there. So why do you want these wretched weapons? (Laughter.) So let us all decide that we’ll get rid of them. And I’m sure India and Pakistan will get rid of them along with everybody else.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you very much, Mr. Aiyar. And I do hope that people listen to you so we can continue to study these issues at the USC and at other universities rather than resolve them with nuclear exchanges.
Please join me in thanking Mr. Aiyar for his talk. (Applause.)